Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (7)

by ChessBase
6/2/2007 – The chess historian Edward Winter presents another selection of mysteries from Chess Notes. It includes an alleged game by Albert Einstein, the origin of the Trompowsky Opening, the termination of the 1984-85 world championship match, and the Marshall brilliancy which supposedly prompted a shower of gold coins. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

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Unsolved Chess Mysteries (7)

By Edward Winter

A game attributed to Albert Einstein

Our fifth ‘Chess Mysteries’ article noted that the Dictionnaire des échecs by François Le Lionnais and Ernst Maget (Paris, 1967) reproduced from Freude am Schach by Gerhard Henschel (Gütersloh, 1959) a game purportedly won by Stalin, and that the Dictionnaire expressed some doubt about its authenticity. Strange to say, exactly the same occurred regarding a game attributed to Einstein.

Albert Einstein

On pages 51-54 of his book Henschel presented the following game ‘which Albert Einstein played against the American nuclear physicist Oppenheimer’: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 b5 5 Bb3 Nf6 6 O-O Nxe4 7 Re1 d5 8 a4 b4 9 d3 Nc5 10 Nxe5 Ne7 11 Qf3 f6 12 Qh5+ g6 13 Nxg6 hxg6 14 Qxh8 Nxb3 15 cxb3 Qd6 16 Bh6 Kd7 17 Bxf8 Bb7 18 Qg7 Re8 19 Nd2 c5 20 Rad1 a5 21 Nc4 dxc4 22 dxc4 Qxd1 23 Rxd1+ Kc8 24 Bxe7 Resigns.

No date or venue was given by Henschel, and the note of caution in the Dictionnaire was ignored by subsequent writers. Page 415 of Şah Cartea de Aur by Constantin Ştefaniu (Bucharest, 1982) described it as a ‘game of historic value’ played in the United States in 1940. Pages 157-160 of El maravilloso mundo del ajedrez by Emilio Carrillo Alonso (Mexico City, 2002) gave both the Stalin game and the Einstein one, heading each of them ‘Moscow, 1926’. Elsewhere (e.g. passim and ad nauseam on the Internet) the date of the Einstein game is recorded as 1933, and the venue as Princeton.

A. Soltis gave the game on page 372 of the July 1979 Chess Life & Review, introduced with a claim (devoid of any corroboration) that ‘it was apparently played in the late 1940s when Hans Albert Einstein, son of the Einstein, and Robert Oppenheimer were both on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley’.

What, then, is the truth about the ‘Einstein game’? More specifically, did Henschel’s 1959 book mark its first appearance in print?

Trompowsky Opening

C.N. 2375 reported that when annotating his game (which began 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5) against Lucius Endzelins in the Munich, 1936 Olympiad the Brazilian master Octavio Trompowsky wrote of the bishop move: ‘My variation, which I have been playing for more than 15 years.’ Source: Deutsche Schachblätter, 15 October 1936, page 368. We have been seeking any of his pre-1936 specimens of the Trompowsky Opening, but without success so far. In C.N. 4306 Christian Sánchez (Rosario, Argentina) noted that according to page 181 of El Ajedrez Argentino, June 1947, Trompowsky gave some games with the opening in his book Partidas de Xadrez. What exactly does that volume contain?

Piece sacrifice anticipated?

One of Alekhine’s most notable sacrificial experiments was in the sixth game of his 1937 world championship match against Euwe. As White he opened 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 dxc4 4 e4 e5 5 Bxc4 exd4 6 Nf3 and won quickly after Euwe’s 6...b5? In his notes (My Best Games) Alekhine said that his ‘chief’ variation started 6...dxc3 7 Bxf7+ Ke7 8 Qb3 Nf6, etc.

Euwe v Alekhine world championship match, The Netherlands, 1937

It always seems to have been assumed that Alekhine was the first to play this piece sacrifice, but, as mentioned in C.N. 1181, we found the following game, recorded as played 13 years earlier, in 120 Partidas Cortas de Ajedrez by Gumersindo Martínez (Havana, 1947), page 74:

José Fernández Migoya – N.N. Havana, 1924 Queen’s Gambit Declined

1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 dxc4 4 e4 e5 5 Nf3 exd4

6 Bxc4 dxc3 7 Bxf7+ Ke7 8 Qb3 Nf6 9 O-O Na6 10 Bg5 h6 11 Bh4 g5 12 Nxg5 hxg5 13 Bxg5 Bg7 14 e5 Rf8 15 exf6+ Bxf6 16 Rfe1+ Kd6 17 Rad1+ Kc7 18 Bf4+ Resigns.

No confirmation of the game’s date has been traced in a contemporary (i.e. 1924) source, but J.F. Migoya was an active player at that time. For instance, two of his games were published on page 99 of the April 1924 American Chess Bulletin.

An early actor?

Was A.B. Hodges (1861-1944) the first chess master to act in a film? Indeed, did he act in a film? C.N. 2221 quoted a brief item entitled ‘Hodges in the Movies’ on page 47 of the February 1918 American Chess Bulletin:

‘Albert B. Hodges, ex-United States chess champion, has made a number of appearances on the screen, notably as a member of the Russian Duma in War Brides, the Police Inspector in The Auction Block, the Coroner in Empty Pockets and the Butler in the new Brenon picture False Faces.’

Albert Beauregard Hodges

We have been unable to verify this information. In C.N. 3806 David Picken (Greasby, England) gave some (Hodges-less) cast details for the films and suggested that the master may have been an uncredited extra or a very small bit-part player.

The Termination

A major chess mystery concerns the exact circumstances in which the first world championship match between Karpov and Kasparov was terminated by the FIDE President, Florencio Campomanes, in Moscow on 15 February 1985. As noted in our feature article on the subject, at first the termination decision ‘was widely condemned as Campomanes’ response to panic-stricken pleas that he save the title of his worn-out friend Karpov’. However, that initial/instinctive reaction soon had to be revised, as a plethora of contradictions and complexities came to light, alongside innumerable misstatements by rabid critics of Campomanes. Increasingly, chess writers shunned passing judgment on the entire affair. For example, in 1985 (see C.N. 1020) John Nunn wrote, ‘I doubt whether the full truth will ever be revealed’ and ‘I have given up trying to reconcile the many conflicting statements about the events in Moscow’. At ChessBase in October 2006 Yasser Seirawan commented:

‘Campomanes, as we know, aborted the 1984/85 World Championship match. I make no judgment as to the rights and wrongs of that exceptionally complicated case; after all, it threw up so much contradictory evidence that the only fair-minded conclusion is agnosticism on whether or not Campomanes was correct to terminate the match.’

That is certainly true, but what of the future? Will the Termination remain an unsolved mystery on which our agnosticism must continue, or is it possible, even now, to iron out the discrepancies on the basis of solid information? In particular, can any factual disclosures be coaxed from the key figures involved?

Marshall’s ‘gold coins’ game

Frank James Marshall

On page 138 of My Fifty Years of Chess (New York, 1942) Frank J. Marshall wrote the following introductory note to his game against Levitzky (or Levitsky) at Breslau, 1912:

‘Perhaps you have heard about this game, which so excited the spectators that they “showered me with gold pieces!”. I have often been asked whether this really happened. The answer is – yes, that is what happened, literally!’

Black played 25...Qg3, and White resigned.

There are, though, varying accounts of this incident, and several Chess Notes items have discussed it (see, in particular, pages 303-305 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves). For example, C.N. 670 quoted from a letter dated 13 October 1975 in which Irving Chernev informed us:

‘Let’s put the quietus on this, once and for all! Frank J. Marshall himself (in person, not a moving-picture) told me himself that it was true. The spectators, he said, threw gold pieces on his board at the conclusion of his brilliant win over Levitzky. While Marshall’s memory was sometimes faulty (he remembered very few of his great games) this was an incident one could hardly forget.’

In C.N. 2148 Owen Hindle (Cromer, England) quoted from page 62 of Marshall’s Chess “Swindles” (New York, 1914), which gave the Levitzky v Marshall game with notes by Hermann Helms taken from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. At the end Helms wrote:

‘After the game a number of enthusiastic spectators presented Mr Marshall with a handful of gold pieces, saying the game had given them great pleasure.’

That sounds decidedly less colourful than ‘showering’. On the other hand, Al Horowitz’s All About Chess (New York, 1971) gave the game twice (on pages 63 and 150), each time with a denial, based on a statement by Marshall’s widow, that any gold had been given (‘... Caroline Marshall, who ought to know, disclaims knowledge of even a shower of pennies’).

Discussing the matter on pages 98-99 of his book America’s Chess Heritage (New York, 1978) Walter Korn wrote:

‘Eyewitness reports, as circulated in Europe in the 1920s, come close to corroborating Marshall’s story. Two of the Czech participants at Breslau, Oldrich Duras, who had shared 1st prize with A. Rubinstein, and K. Treybal, both senior master members of the Dobrusky Chess Club in Prague, often took pleasure in recounting this and other episodes to the junior members, including myself. As corroborated by their compatriots Dobiáš, Hromádka, Pokorný, Thelen, and other Czechs who had also been to Breslau, what really happened was the paying of a bet. As the story was told, the Leningrad master Levitsky was accompanied by another Russian, P.P. Saburov, a well-to-do patron of the game. Another visitor was Alexander Alekhine, a dapper, prosperous aristocrat who was on his way from Stockholm (where he had won 1st prize) to a tournament in Vilna. Saburov, Alekhine, and a few other Russian guests made it their duty to place a wager on Levitsky’s win over the “played-out American”. However, Marshall upset their patriotic predictions and the bettors tossed over their pledges. Rubles, marks, Austrian crowns, and similar coinage of the period were minted partly or fully in gold. As related by Zidlicky, even the silver Maria Theresa thalers came in the “shower”, something not mentioned in the respectable accounts of the tournament book.’

On page 204 of Frank J. Marshall, United States Chess Champion (Jefferson, 1994) A. Soltis asserted that this was ‘the best explanation of what actually happened’. He also reported that Marshall’s original handwritten notes to the game merely commented, ‘A purse was presented to me after this game’. We wonder whether a reader can discover more details in the local press. The tournament book states that the game was played on 20 July 1912.

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Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then around 5,000 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center.


Articles by Edward Winter

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (1)
    14.02.2007 – Since Chess Notes began, over 25 years ago, hundreds of mysteries and puzzles have been discussed, with many of them being settled satisfactorily, often thanks to readers. Some matters, though, have remained stubbornly unsolvable – at least so far – and a selection of these is presented here. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (2)
    12.03.2007 – We bring you a further selection of intriguing chess mysteries from Chess Notes, including the origins of the Marshall Gambit, a game ascribed to both Steinitz and Pillsbury and the bizarre affair of an alleged blunder by Capablanca in Chess Fundamentals. Once again our readers are invited to join the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (3)
    27.03.2007 – Recently-discovered photographs from one of Alekhine’s last tournaments, in Spain in 1945, are proving baffling. Do they show that a 15-move brilliancy commonly attributed to Alekhine is spurious? And do they disprove claims that another of his opponents was an 11-year-old boy? Chess Notes investigates, and once again our readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (4)
    10.04.2007 – What would have happened if the score of the 1927 Capablanca v Alekhine match had reached 5-5? Would the contest have been declared drawn? The affair has been examined in depth in Chess Notes. Here chess historian Edward Winter sifts and summarizes the key evidence. There is also the strange case of a fake photograph of the two masters. Join the investigation.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (5)
    30.04.2007 – We bring you a further selection of mysteries from Edward Winter’s Chess Notes, including an alleged game by Stalin, some unexplained words attributed to Morphy, a chess magazine of which no copy can be found, a US champion whose complete name is uncertain, and another champion who has vanished without trace. Our readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (6)
    19.05.2007 – A further miscellany of mysteries from Chess Notes is presented by the chess historian Edward Winter. They include an alleged tournament game in which Black was mated at move three, the unclear circumstances of a master’s suicide, a chess figure who was apparently unaware of his year of birth, the book allegedly found beside Alekhine’s body in 1946, and the chess notes of the poet Rupert Brooke. Join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (7)
    02.06.2007 – The chess historian Edward Winter presents another selection of mysteries from Chess Notes. They include an alleged game by Albert Einstein, the origin of the Trompowsky Opening, the termination of the 1984-85 world championship match, and the Marshall brilliancy which supposedly prompted a shower of gold coins. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.


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